TAMPA — With the Lightning leading 3-2 with just over a minute remaining, Stacy Birr couldn’t sit in her seat any longer.
Up in the 300s level, Birr kept her eyes glued on the video board hovering over center ice at Amalie Arena.
It was a serendipitous moment when Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” screamed over the speakers, bringing everyone else to their feet, too. And unlike previous occasions, no one at Friday’s Game 5 watch party was leaving early.
As the seconds ticked down, Birr — along with about 7,200 other fans — grew more antsy. Her nerves settled, though, once the Lightning sealed the win over Colorado, cutting their Stanley Cup final series deficit to 3-2 with Game 6 back home on Sunday night.
“They’re winners,” said Birr, 40 of Seffner. “(A comeback in the series) would create our dynasty if we can complete this.”
Donning a blue Ryan McDonagh jersey, Birr was more than excited to share another game night with Bre Aubrey, 42 of Brandon, and Melissa Barney, 39 of Seffner. The trio has made a point to attend every watch party this postseason.
And while the night ended well for most fans inside the Arena, longtime Colorado fan Todd Schippers — who attended Friday’s watch party alongside his wife, Sabrina, and two boys, Liam and Logan — felt differently.
The family of four heard some good-natured heckling throughout the night. The home crowd treated the outsiders well, said Todd, who donned a Joe Sakic jersey.
Despite the loss, the Riverview resident was content with an entertaining Game 5. And he has enough confidence in his team to know the ultimate prize is still ahead for the Avalanche, who haven’t lost back-to-back games this entire postseason.
“It was hard, but a good game, though,” said Todd, 39. “It was really close, a nail-biter all the way to the end. I really thought we were going to come back and win (the Cup) at home, I was really hoping it wasn’t going to a Game 6, but that’s all right. We’re going to come back here and beat these guys here.”
Lightning fans understood what was at stake. One loss and Tampa Bay’s chances of a three-peat are over.
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“The chips are down,” said David Hahn, 72, of New Port Richey. “This is a tough team. When they get excited, and their backs are (against) the wall, they can do anything.”
Sporting a fake “playoff beard” and custom-made Lightning sunhat, Matthew Cunningham said the Lightning needed to show that they are the “better team.”
“No, I don’t think Colorado is good at all,” said Cunningham, 18. “I think everything that they’ve gotten has been because of our lack of ability to (pay) attention to detail.”
Few would likely agree with that assessment of the Avalanche, but his take on Ondrej Palat has never seemed more sound. Palat, who many suspect might leave the team this summer as a free agent, scored his franchise-leading 12th playoff game-winning goal in the third period.
“Unless he takes a significant amount less than what he’s worth, then it will be his last run with the Lightning,” Cunningham said. “But I think he’s just shown, in these playoffs, especially, how important he is to the team.”
Meanwhile, Colorado fan Justin Collins attended to show his friend how good a hockey atmosphere is. In one way, he got his wish.
“There’s honestly nothing else that you could ask for in a hockey game,” said Collins, 32, of Clearwater.
Being outnumbered in a crowd is nothing new for Collins. Despite growing up in Tallahassee, he has supported the Avalanche since he was 5 years old.
“My first game was a Tampa versus Colorado game,” he said. “Sat right by the Tampa bench.”
Collins moved to Colorado for six years, mainly, he said, out of love for his Avs. And while he knows Colorado fans wanted to clinch their first Cup in more than two decades on home ice, the loss carries a silver lining. The Avalanche can now win it all in Game 6 at Amalie.
“I’m going to spend whatever I have to spend to get there,” he said.
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